Black and White Thinking?



“If you can dream – and not make dreams your master; if you can think – and not make thoughts your aim; if you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”

“If” – Rudyard Kipling


I’ve always found this to be an intriguing section in Kipling’s wonderful poem, “If”. He seems to be suggesting that we should do more than just dream and think – we should put our plans into action. But why does he say we should treat triumph and disaster just the same?

To me, one answer can be found in the Chinese concept of Yin-Yang. It describes how apparently opposite forces are actually interconnected and naturally dependent on each other. Night/day, male/female, hot/cold are just a few examples – complementary parts of the same system. They each can’t exist without the other. Like two sides of a coin.

You can’t experience failure without the seeds of success being present. An apparent victory will carry the potential for defeat. Consequently, attaching yourself too much to any extreme is to miss the big picture. Many of the most successful figures in history suffered huge setbacks in life before their triumphs. Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln being two such examples.

Equally, being too attached to success may lead to arrogance, conceit and resting on your laurels. Churchill himself said “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Success is not final because once we have achieved our goal, we naturally reach for the next. Failure is not fatal, because it often leads to new perspectives or opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have been considered.

If we’re less attached to an outcome, which will only be temporary anyway, we can be more focused on our self-development during the process. In that way, we are always moving forward, always gaining experience.

It’s great to have inspiring dreams, but most aren’t achieved overnight, if at all. How often do we reach a goal, and after the initial glow has worn off, find ourselves strangely unimpressed? I think it’s the sense of challenge, and the little victories along the way, that ultimately give us satisfaction.

It’s often the journey, and not the destination, that is the real prize.

Thought Bubble


Photo: Bubbles by George Hodan


I believe we are all living in our own ‘thought bubble’ – a ‘bubble’ of consciousness. Nothing can enter without us first creating it on some level. We allow all our experiences to enter either consciously or unconsciously.

How do we monitor what’s in our bubble? It would be draining to try and analyse even our conscious thoughts. It can even be counter-productive. Once you realise that you have created negative thoughts, how does that make you feel? Even worse! How do you ‘dig out’ those negative thoughts anyway?

But in any given moment you know how you feel. If you’re not comfortable with where you are, you can do something to change it. You have a choice here. You’re the one who created the thoughts. So, re-create them. If you’re confronted with a situation you don’t like, re-frame it or shift your focus. Often, it is our resistance to the problem that makes it worse. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not going to find a solution. If something is draining your energy, put your focus elsewhere. Maybe have a cup of tea. Then come back to your original problem with fresh eyes. Winston Churchill said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

You won’t be able to improve the economy single-handed, so worrying about it can’t move you forward. You might feel better reminding yourself that you know how to budget, so whatever happens, you won’t go under. Or you may prefer to play a round of golf, because that’s where you relax and have your best ideas, free from the clutter of day-to-day thinking.

So, escapism rules? Lets head for the hills? It’s not about avoiding the issues, it’s about facing them in the frame of mind that gives us the edge. Author Jack London wrote, “Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” But there has to be more to it than thinking and feeling your way to happiness. You still have to take action.

It’s by taking action that the things you want will come to you. It’s no good expecting to win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. As they say, “You’ve got to be in it to win it!” But if working harder was the key to success, there would be a lot more successful people out there. Don’t work harder – work smarter.

The bottom line is: the only meaning that any incident has, is the one we assign to it. Is it a ‘disaster’ or a ‘learning experience’? Which do you prefer?